Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about…Oskar Groening?

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about…Oskar Groening?

By Rabbi Zvi Solomons

Torah For TodayIn this weeks Torah for Today, we answer what the Torah says about…Oskar Groening

While an inmate at a Nazi death camp, Simon Weisenthal was brought to a young soldier who was dying of battle burns.

Tortured by his participation in the murder of a whole Jewish village, he begged him for forgiveness. Weisenthal remained silent. Starting with the story (The Sunflower) he then asks how he should have behaved.

The remainder of his book consists of responses from some of the leading moral political and religious minds of the world.

The story is told of Rabbi Soloveichik, who was treated with immense disrespect on a train journey. The perpetrator found out his mistake and tried to apologise, only to be rejected. In despair he begged for forgiveness.

Rabbi Soloveitchik replied: “When he abused me he thought I was a nobody. Now he knows who I am, the nobody whom he abused has disappeared. I cannot forgive him for his offence to another person.”

Halacha dictates that forgiveness of a sinner is reserved for victims alone.

The recent trial of SS bookkeeper Oskar Groening is another case in point. He counted the victims’ stolen cash at Auschwitz, allowing the Nazis to profit. The spectacle of a lady survivor of Auschwitz forgiving this frail old man dominated some of the media coverage. What purpose do these trials serve? Why are old men being sentenced to prison? Can we forgive them?

I have already answered the last of these questions. The crimes were not against us unless we ourselves were there. We cannot therefore forgive them. There are no living murder victims.

In this instance the purpose of the trial is both to achieve justice and put on record a Nazi SS guard’s witness.

Groening maintained that he regrets working at Auschwitz, but put up a strange kind of justification of his criminal activity, excusing himself on the basis of the atmosphere and propaganda of the day.

We all recognize there can be no real justice. The sentence handed this ancient man is token. Perhaps it would have been better to have him speak to schoolchildren and convicted neo-Nazis and tell them the Holocaust happened and that he was there.

As the Holocaust generation dies out, it is unlikely many more such trials will happen.

The determination to ensure the Holocaust is firmly engraved in our consciences and that there is a strong historical record is essential to ensuring rabid deniers are prevented from perverting the fact of genocide and usurping the reality of the millions of our loved-ones disappeared into the maw of industrialised death.

•Rabbi Zvi Solomons is rabbi of Reading Hebrew Congregation

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: